I had my first book signing for “Making Room” last Saturday at The Country Bookshop, a perky local bookstore about 45 minutes from my home. I’m not sure what I expected. Surely not what you see on television for the big-wigs like J.K. Rowling or Karen Kingsbury. But also, not an empty bookstore with nobody to talk to or lure over. So, what was it like?
I was sooo nervous. I spastically walked around the house that morning looking for … my courage, I guess? Which turned out to be unnecessary because it was pretty much the least-frightening thing I’ve ever done. But I didn’t know that Saturday morning. All I knew was that strangers might be coming up to me, asking me about my book. I was going to be sitting in a bookstore with “Making Room” in front of me, hoping people would want to buy it. I was so nervous while attempting to get ready that at one point, I was standing at my bedroom door and I sang, “I’m so nervous, I’m so nervous, I’m so NEERRRVOUUSSS!” Greg laughed, then came over and gave me a big bear hug.
I got to the bookstore about 30 minutes early but was the last one of the 7 authors to arrive. I forgot pens (to sign with) and mints (to make my banana breath disappear). I went around the small town of Southern Pines in search of both. The bookstore lent me a pen, and Maureen, who runs the Welcome Center, gave me a cinnamon from her candy jar. Small gestures, but I was so grateful!
Back at the bookstore, I sat next to a woman named Lynn who has self-published a book of iPhone photography, all of the North Carolina country. She doesn’t have a web site or I’d point you there, but you can take my word for it … the photographs were colorful, crisp, intriguing. It was Lynn’s 52nd birthday, and she was full of energy. She kept joking about the sugary cereal she ate for breakfast, and she must have said at least 3 times, “I love my birthday!” We were both Book Signing newbies, so we took to each other and had a great time just chatting, laughing, making jokes.
There wasn’t a ton of traffic because we were placed in the back of the store. There may have been close to 100 people milling around within the 3 hours us authors were set up. But nobody sold any books to anyone we didn’t know, so that’s what I mean about not a ton of traffic. If a customer hasn’t come to a bookstore specifically to see an author, there’s always that awkward interaction, even if it’s just through avoided eye contact. The customer is thinking, “Oh no. I don’t want to buy that. Pressure. Awkward. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid.” The author is thinking, “I don’t bite. Come on over, maybe we’ll have something to talk about.” A little later the author thinks, “I’m hungry,” because she’s been sitting there for 3 hours with the scent of local cuisine floating through the open doors. Anyways… back to the book signing.
A handful of my friends/former co-workers surprised me. One of my teacher friends even sent me a bouquet of flowers (pictured above)! I was so touched… She couldn’t be there but wanted to show her support. I got all misty-eyed. Then two friends (one of them pictured above) I didn’t think even knew about the signing showed up, and I got all misty-eyed again. I didn’t keep track of how many books I sold. (Remember my lack of paying attention, which I talked about here), but I think was between 5-10? I’ll find out when I get the check from Country Bookshop. The staff was super sweet and very accommodating. I’m so glad my first signing was with them.
I explained the story of MR to a few passers-by, but I could tell it wasn’t their kind of book. And that was totally fine; as a constant yet picky reader, I understand not wanting to buy anything you’re not sure you’ll read. However, one customer felt … compelled? … to share her honest opinion after I told her my book was a novel (as opposed to non-fiction):
“I would much rather read non-fiction. I would much rather read about something that actually happened instead of something that somebody just dreamed up.”
[Eloquent silence on my part] … “Well, sometimes fiction is an amalgamation of true events.”
“I know. But still. I don’t care to read something that someone just dreamed up.”
… Then go to the next table. Which of course I did not utter out loud, because I am not rude and because she was in her late 60s/early 70s.
So, all together, even though I only talked to about 3 people I didn’t know (and none of them bought my book), it was a good experience to have. Anti-climactic but necessary. It sounds incredibly trite and obligatory to say that, but it’s true. I read an interview with a big-time Christian author (I can’t remember if it was Robin Jones Gunn or Karen Kingsbury), but she said, “I remember those early book signings, where nobody comes because nobody knows who you are.” So I wasn’t discouraged. I was a little bored and hungry the last 30-45 minutes, but I wasn’t discouraged. I got some ideas of what I do and do not want to do in the future. I now know more of what to expect, what to ask. I also have the idea … the feeling … the inkling… that I’m not done here. I have more to write, more to experience. More people to meet, more books to sell. With “Making Room” and … possibly, hopefully, prayerfully … subsequent novels. Lord, help me.